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Sketch*, The Lecture Room & Library [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

London, now a major player in the global foodie scene, is beginning to get heavily saturated with high end restaurants. To stand apart from the crowd, chefs (and their restaurants) need an angle to distinguish themselves further; e.g. Gordon Ramsey has never-ending media coverage, Heston Blumenthal was the pioneer in molecular gastronomy and dishes such as Snail Porridge and Bacon & Egg Ice Cream captured the press’ attention.

Sketch, with head chef Pierre Gagnaire (a pioneer of modern French fusion cuisine, his restaurant in Paris has 3 Michelin stars and is 9th in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), have not only good food but also a truly incredibly venue to showcase it all. Located near the shopping district New Bond Street a stone’s throw from Louis Vuitton, Armani and Hermes, the exterior of this one starred restaurant is deceptively ordinary.

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Upon entering the main entrance, the steward swooped upon us and quickly confirmed our reservation. As is their usual, he showed us a tour of the entire building before leaving us to the head waiter in the Lecture Room.

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The Lecture Room was a fairly large room decorated with a beautiful skylight in the centre of the ceiling. On opposite sides were large portraits which showed a barely visible baby’s face, apparently made by a famous Chinese artist according to the head waiter. This trend continues throughout Sketch with a variety of art on display and on sale as well. Unusually for such a posh restaurant, the tables are spaced well apart from each other with chairs comfortable enough to rival Lazyboy recliners (ok maybe not, but they were still comfy).

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A little stool in between chairs to put our personal stuff. How thoughtful.

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A selection of bread including white mini baguettes, chestnut and milk brioche was delivered on a tray. Unfortunately, although not stale, they weren’t precisely warm and fresh from the oven. This was more than made up by the seaweed butter provided though; deliciously rich and creamy, flecked with salt, the seaweed taste was a nice contrast.

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A selection of amuse bouche were brought out for both of us. I can’t remember the exact details of all of them as the waiter presented them all together very quickly. A gazpacho with red pepper crisp on top was a refreshing way to start a meal, especially after eating so much seaweed butter. There were some spiced bread sticks that tasted a lot like muruku from Malaysia to go with a creamy tuna paste. Interestingly, the sticks came standing in a bowl of semolina, a bit similar to incense sticks to me. A mash of black olives on a pastry was so-so, nothing very special. A spoon of watermelon balls with cranberry sounded quite docile but there was an incredibly bitter bit hidden somewhere which was absolutely shocking to the tongue. A dish had some cheese (goat or sheep I think) sandwiched between two sweet fruity wafers with a ginger biscuit on the side. Two little dumplings were pretty nice, but lacked any true defining quality.

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A selection of amuse bouche

We ordered from the Gourmet Rapide Lunch, a bit like a set lunch but we could only choose which main or dessert we desired, the starters were all pre-set already. The head waiter explained that the idea was to provide diners with more variety and they tried to use fresh quality ingredients for the dishes.

As the waiter placed it directly in front of me, I started first with the red tuna sashimi with curcuma filo pastry, artichoke cream and samphire. In my opinion, this was the best of all the appetisers as firstly, it was just beautiful to look it, a real work of art. Also, the combination of textures, from the soft tuna meat, to the slightly crunchy samphire and pastry gave contrast and diversity. The seasoning was done quite finely so as not to overpower the tuna and the samphire itself (this summer’s trendy ingredient apparently) contributed some salt to the dish.

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4 different starters per person which occupied the whole table.

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Red tuna sashimi with curcuma filo pastry, artichoke cream and samphire

I then moved on to the raspberry and organic tomato tartare with preserved duck leg. After the previous dish, this seemed a bit of a let down, a bit like being impressed at a hotel lobby only to go to your room to find a single bed instead of the king sized bed. Anyway, the tomatoes were quite sweet and it did go quite well with the duck meat, which the PigPig absolutely enjoyed, but I was hoping for a bigger bed.

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Raspberry and organic tomato tartare with preserved duck leg

Ajo blanco (?white garlic) is a traditional cold Spanish soup made out of blended fresh vegetables, according to the ever-charming head waiter. It was absolutely delicious and very creamy, unlike a gazpacho which is more refreshing and clear. I was hoping the PigPig would give me her share but unfortunately, she happily devoured hers as well.

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Ajo blanco

The next dish of turnip marinated in Guinness with ewe’s milk jelly caught me by surprise. The first bite found it very delicious, but the subsequent bites caught the ewe’s milk in full force, which was a shock since I had assumed it to be plain egg custard similar to Japanese chawanmushi at first.

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Turnip marinated in Guinness with ewe’s milk jelly

Again, I have to hold myself guilty for not reading the menu properly before ordering my choice of main as I ended up choosing confit and roast lamb rump in a spinach and Roquefort veloute sauce. Admittedly, the lamb itself was perfect, very lean yet tender, pink yet cooked enough not to leave an uncomfortable raw texture. The sharp smell of the cheese unfortunately ruined the dish for me (sheep’s milk again). Luckily, the PigPig loves blue cheese and we traded dishes whereby she soon made short work of licking the plate clean. There was also beetroot agar-agar and puff pastry with the dish but it was quite negligible really.

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Confit and roast lamb rump in a spinach and Roquefort veloute sauce

I have to say that altogether, I was quite happy with the trade as the pan-fried organic cod fillet (from sustainable sources, naturally) with Lebanese couscous and celeriac cream was a joy to eat. The cod was melt-in-your-mouth tender and cooked to perfection. It also seemed very fresh as the juicy, succulent meat just parts away in its natural chunks as I applied just the tenderest of pressures upon it. The citrus Mousseline (Hollandaise with whipped cream folded in) added a lovely lemony zing to the fish.

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Pan-fried organic cod fillet (from sustainable sources, naturally) with Lebanese couscous and celeriac cream

This being a properly French restaurant, a choice of either desserts or cheese was offered to end the meal. Neither of us being particularly fond of cheese as a dessert, we both ended up with a slice of chocolate cake and a very rich home made vanilla ice cream. The third part of the dessert was a pot of fruits which ranged from melon to raspberry, blueberry, redcurrant (bloody sour ones too), and strawberry (and a couple other unrecognised berries). The fruits were quite refreshing after a heavy meal and the slight alcoholic marinade for the melon made it less boring.

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Selection of desserts

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Lastly came the petit fours; a marzipan with blueberry which I avoided (don’t like marzipan), a Turkish delight, an Italian biscuit I forgot the name of (but apparently is quite famous according to the waiter) and a dark chocolate sandwich with lemon cream in the middle (would have bought a box of this).

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Including a bottle of still water (there are four types available for the discerning palate), service charge and a small donation to some charity (it was included in the bill already, I assume it’s optional but didn’t feel appropriate to question it), the grand total was approximately £85 for two (or £42.50 each). Luckily, the PigPig managed to get hold of a £50 voucher for Sketch through Facebook so the meal became a very reasonable £17.50 each.

Another oddity: the bill was presented as a bookmark in book. Not to feel like we weren’t participating, we duly left a message inside. Previous diners were keen to display their lack of talent in drawing.

Last but not least, the service was absolutely impeccable. Admittedly, there were only three other parties present that day (the steward said it’s very unpredictable this time of the year, they were full up the day before) but the level of attention was very good throughout. Also, the waiters actually seemed like nice people (French restaurants have a reputation for snobby waiters in general, but I guess that can be debated about) who actually seem proud to be working for such a restaurant and are quite happy to have a chat regarding the décor (and there’s lots to talk about the décor if you are such a person with an interest in it).

Food - 8.0
Service - 9.0
Atmosphere - 9.0
Value - 7.0

According to gen.u.ine.ness (I don’t personally know this guy, but his reviews are good), Sketch was originally one of the more expensive restaurants when it first opened up in 2002 but it has been eclipsed by other restaurants since. You do pay for what you get though, not only for good food but in a beautiful setting. Overall, barring the selection of hors d'œuvre which wasn’t anything too special, I found the food delicious, well cooked and presented very well indeed.

Would I eat here again? Yes, if there's more £50 vouchers available.

PS. We had coffee and tea in the Parlour downstairs after lunch and are quite keen to try the high tea available there. Possibly a review will appear.

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PPS. If you do go to the Sketch, check out the toilets, they’re famous.

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Toilet cubicles

9 Conduit St
Mayfair, W1S 2XG
Tel: +44(0)20 7659 4500
Official website

Sketch Lecture Room and Library on Urbanspoon

30 oink oinks...:

Selba said...

Wow! I'm impressed with restaurant and also the food presentation.

The last photo is the toilet?

homeladychef said...

Very interesting review! Wow, you are really lucky to have the 50 dollars voucher from FB. Nice to see those toilet cubicles too, hehe....but i wonder, were you full when you left the restaurant? Cos i really think that the serving was way too small for me!!! Argghh....

Angie's Recipes said...

Beautiful restaurant...and I can't help but fall in love immediately with all the stunning pix you took.

Angie's Recipes

The Little Teochew said...

Quirky loo! Hahaha! But seriously, you take beautiful photos. Very chi chi place :)

Big Boys Oven said...

I absolute love this place, the interior speaks for itself and the food just perfectly awesome, hope to be back in London soon!

Elra said...

Wonderful restaurant, lovely food and presentation. What an interesting toilet.

Pam said...

Excellent photos! The entrance is so stunning and the dining room is as well. I love that they give you a stool to place your things on. The food looked gourmet and beautiful and so did the tea set. The toilets - now those are quite unique!

KennyT said...

Bring me there!

Wild Boar said...

Haha yeah that's the loo alright, I thought they looked like alien egg pods.

When I saw the portions of the dishes from the PigPig's first visit to Sketch, I did think they looked quite tiny. But actually I was getting quite full after the mains and had difficulty finishing dessert!

Angie's Recipes / The Little Teochew:
Thanks. I did feel that it was a bit too posh for me, but I managed to blend in haha.

Big Boys Oven / KennyT:
Oh you making plans to take a holiday?

lisaiscooking said...

Wow, gorgeous presentation for everything! Must have been fun to experience.

nora@ffr said...

wow!! this place is amazing!! i love the stunning pictures!! will visit here if i get a chance.. yumm all the foods sound fabulous!
cheers and have a great weekend!!

Helen said...

My friend and I had a terrible meal in the gallery. Some of the food was very odd, like the tomato water which came with my woefully under seasoned steak tartare. It arrived in a plastic shot glass. I also found a shard of sharp plastic in the dessert. To be fair, they did offer us a complimentary meal to make up for it and they really tried hard. It was better second time round. Seems like the lecture room is better. I have to say though, I think it is really style more than substance and the loos are the coolest thing about it. I can see the food seems better in the lecture room but I don't think I'd go back to eat there.

Cinnamon Girl aka Reeni♥ said...

What an absolutely gorgeous place with the most delicious eats. The toilets are so funny!!!!

nora@ffr said...

m loving the toilet cubicle :) they look soo cute hehe :)

Cathy said...

What a beautiful restaurant and gorgeous food photographs. Looks like a wonderful dining experience. Very interesting toilets.

daphne said...

I love how you detailed every experience. What a great feast of delicious treats. I wouldnt mind having a lecture when having these creations! LOL

Food For Tots said...

What a great review! Nice ambience and great food! Interesting toilet cubicles.

petite nyonya said...

This is a terrific & comprehensive review you've written. Oh, I am so in love with the teacup, saucer, tea pot & the whole charming english rose tea setting!!

Maris said...

Looks like a beautiful place! And the petit fours look divine!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Great review and photos! I've read mixed reviews about Sketch, but you seem to have had a good experience. The £50 voucher must have helped a lot!

Olga said...

What a beautiful place and such amazing looking food. I'm always impressed by how good of ajob you do at taking photos of restaurant food!

And I LOVE that you took a photo of the toilets ;)

5 Star Foodie said...

Sounds like a fun dining experience! Gorgeous pictures!

Wild Boar said...

Random bits of plastic in food is terrible and tomato water sounds kinda odd. I do agree they emphasize on the presentation but I did find the food I had tasty as well; shame you didn't find the Parlour that nice. I'm reconsidering trying the high tea there now.

Haha the waiter gave a mini lecture on the room's decor actually.

petite nyonya:
Yeah it's almost the perfect image of British tea we non-Brits have.

Helen Yuet Ling Pang:
Actually I find that top restaurants tend to get mixed reviews all the time. I think its partly because we have such high expectations from "gourmet" restaurants that sometimes we just end up disappointed.

Anyway yes the £50 voucher made my wallet happier :-)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Ahh I miss London restaurants! They just get it so right in so many ways and they offer such an experience! Sadly we didn't go to sketch. We were all set to go but rang up beforehand and asked if we could take photos and they said that they weren't allowed! :(

ck lam said...

A lovely place that I hope to visit one day. It is so inviting with all the delicious food.

Wild Boar said...

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella:
That's very odd (regarding the photo taking); the steward was quite happy for us to take photos and even volunteered to take one for us as a couple in the Lecture Room.

ck lam:
I hope you get a chance to visit :-)

Laissez Fare said...

Thanks for the review - I am going here soon and am quite excited...seems like it will be a fun experience at the very least! Great photos too, and nice site.

pigpigscorner said...

Do drop a line how you found the restaurant.

vanity units said...

I agree.. The photos are excellent! The entrance is so impressive! And the food looks very good.

cumbriafoodie said...

wow wow wow the photos.
Im booked in next week for the tasting menu , and now im even more excited.Look out for my pics in the near future
cheers , Alan

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